Friday, September 28, 2007

Today's Release

As mentioned, the outward facing Reviews & Lists page has been subdivided into two pages: Reviews (for all of a member's reviews, most recent on top), and Top 10 Lists (with the attractive poster view).

The other changes are more subtle, I suppose. The multiple helpful votes has been turned off -- so each member can only vote once, same as with flags. We added an underline to the names of pages in the sidebar, to make it clearer to the folks who didn't recognize those things as clickable buttons. In the Friends/Faves Activity block, when it shows someone has written a review, the movie name still links to the movie display page, but the person's name links to their Reviews page, and thus you'll see their review prominently at the top. This will save you trying to find their new review from the pages of reviews on the movie page. Let's see... what else? I believe the fans and faves stuff will be more solid, and work better... please let me know. Oh yea - FANS now show up mixed into your outward facing Friends & Faves page. That's a little more fun. Anyway, enjoy these things. And the new Search. Lots of stuff to play with today. Keep in touch.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Search Update

Hi - it's Meghan again. You may have been wondering about how things are going with search. Well, last week we switched to a new engine on the back end. You can't see it, but it is improving results and it gives us the flexibility to make further improvements.

Over the next few days you'll see the first visible change on the site: auto-complete suggestions. As you type in the search box, you will see a list of movie titles that match what you type. Now you can find "Ratatouille" or "Koyaanisqatsi", even if you aren't sure how to spell it.

It will be live on Friday, and I'm curious to hear what you think. This change and some others we're working on were mentioned in the previous search post.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Talking about Netflix Community

Here's a question for you. I'd like more people to engage with these new features -- for instance, finding reviewers with movie tastes they like, and saving them. How do you suggest this spread?

Now before you say "send an email out to all netflix subscribers" or "put a little announcement of it on the netflix home page" let me reframe: let's say we did that. What would the announcement say? How do you describe what these things are, and how do you entice people to explore?

You all pretty much use these new features. How do you talk about them with your friends?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

In the Works

In the next release we're going to be pulling apart the (outward facing) Reviews & Lists page into two pages - a Reviews page, and a Lists page. There's no particularly new functionality at this point, but it will be much clearer (and I think more interesting looking) to have the Top 10 Lists exposed as artwork and not a list, particularly in this orientation. The Reviews page will pretty much be like the "More" reviews page today.

(Here are some early sketches)

I can imagine there will be comments here that we should have a toggle/option between list view and poster view; that's not an unreasonable request. But by now you all know our bias here at Netflix: logical simplicity trumps expanding control and preferences. While i'd never say never about a toggle (i can certainly see when one is preferable to another), it's lower on priorities right now. Anyway, a more likely improvement to the presentation would be a fixed logic, for instance, "show as posters for 24 or fewer, show as a list for 25+"). I'll keep you posted on what improvements to expect as time goes on.

There will be other features coming out also, but i'll talk about them individually, as appropriate, over the coming week. (By the way, the next page to quickly follow these is probably going to be a new one: the outward facing Profile page -- with a return of the "personal statement"). More on that later as well. Cheers.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Missing Faves?

Clearly there are few small irritating issues in the last release - in particular, this odd occasional missing Fave. Perhaps this is more than you want to know, but let me describe a tiny bit of the web architecture to you (and this is going to be a mix of oversimplification and overgeeky, that i hope will cancel out into a digestible whole):

the website you see is really a whole bunch of computers (servers) with identical code. When you log in to your account, you're logging into to one of these servers. The servers are themselves connected to a lot of different databases -- data about friends, account data, ratings data, list of movies... Sometimes when something is wonky on the site -- say the stars go away or your reviews disappear -- its a glitch in a database, but not the website in general. One component might have to get rebooted or something, and then it all looks fine again. Data isn't ever lost. But it LOOKS gone when you're online. Alternately, sometimes something goes weird with one of the servers. this is rare but does happen. How you experience this is that you might get a Netflix site error, but you retry, and everything is fine.

Anyway, the core functions -- adding movies to Queue, recommendations, shipping -- all that stuff is really robust. My new stuff in Community is very raw and, as you can tell by the speed with which you are seeing new features, is prone to have glitches. No fears: you're doing the right thing letting us know where the probs are. I hope it's not too irritating. This is largely why we aren't going to announce or promote these features right now. We have more to get right first, problems to tweak before millions of people are using it. So thank you for your patience and i'll let you know as we revise code to fix some of these things.

POST SCRIPT: Currently, there is a cap on the number of Faves or Fans that will be displayed -- 16 of each. You can have more, but only 16 show to you (there is no "more" page yet). To the outside, however, all of them are presented with no limit. Like i said, this is a work in progress. Add to this the fact that some folks are private, and it's been a little harder to debug this than usual. But we're on it now.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Moving the Blog Link

There has been grumbling among you, my friends, about the apparent demotion of the link to this blog. To this, I will only add a few things.

1) It hasn't really been demoted. It is no longer on the subnav bar of the Community page -- BUT it is now in the bottom links on EVERY PAGE OF THE SITE. Some would consider this a widening of our reach.
2) The goal of Netflix is not to drive traffic to this blog. It is largely here to help you find movies you'll love. The blog link was a small distraction. For the many people who have a tenuous grip on the site navigation, it was confusing. Savvy folks will still find it, and unsavvy folks will not be lost by it.
3) Moving this link is not equal to not wanting people to participate in the blog. I quite enjoy the participation. It is important to me (and Netflix) that you have a voice and I like giving you the opportunity to inform me as our team works to refine elements of the site. Moving the link doesn't change this.
4) After just a few days of data, it looks like the visits to the blog are relatively unchanged after the move -- the increase in blog onramps seems to balance the decrease in "obviousness" due to the link placement. It's a net change of zero.

Of course, you could argue that we should have the link EVERYWHERE. Yes, that would certainly increase traffic to the blog. To be candid, keeping up with all your comments is pretty challenging, and it does, in fact, compete with my attention on actually implementing features. I'll keep reading and you should keep writing, but don't interpret my slightly diminished responsiveness for anything other than my working on the website.

In the next few days I'll give y'all a headsup on the next batch of changes soon to release.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Today's Release is Live

Well, after the intense posts of the past week, everything else just feels mundane. I've not seen 300+ comments before on a blogpost - is that normal? (And not just little snipes, but often well-considered essays!)

Alright. I'm VERY interested in your first and continued impressions of the FAVES functions and what is working/not working here. Today's release is a complex set of new elements and as much as i hate to say it, there are likely to be some edge cases that are buggy. Any help you can provide as to what might not be smooth yet would help us out (remember for bugs: OS and browser info).

It's rolling out now, and should be everyone's experience in about an hour.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Netflix Privacy

Alright folks. Gather 'round. I've been thinking about this for the few days everyone has been discussing it; I've been reading your debate and really impressed with the depth of interest and considerate listening.

So first I will cut to the chase: Effective with the release of Faves (and everything else this weekend), if you select “Private” on the Profile page, it will not only hide your presence to outsiders, but if you are a Friends user, it will hide your Friends from view. It’s as if they are all invisible. This is a compromise of sorts, but it maintains the type of privacy you currently experience using Friends. I seriously hope y’all will not opt for this, but I don’t see anything wrong with providing it. I certainly hope this solves most of your issues. (And I understand it certainly cannot solve all of them – but you only convinced me at 3pm...) You guys made a very good case. If you’re interested in the logic behind this, read on.

The thing you said that struck me was about the nature of sharing Friends information. I believe there is a clearly established relationship between Friends: full disclosure. You're naked there -- queue, rental history, full name -- I honestly saw little difference between this current state and adding in the list of your Friends (particularly with them as anonymous as each of those individuals self-select to be); I simply didn't agree that there was any ethical reason to keep them more private, and having them public served the common good of movie discovery. But this openness is all about movies. And y’all made the interesting point that who my friends are, that I have friends at all, is not relevant; and while it might be fun for some people, it isn’t fun for everyone. I guess I could imagine that it could cause angst for a very small minority, and that it is something that each person should be allowed to control. For their own reasons.

One reason I was not implementing this degree of control over privacy was due to the complexity it could potentially insert for everyone to protect a small few who desire this. But in thinking through the current user interface, it was apparent that the existing “private” setting could be co-opted for this with little or no penalty. For reviewers, it hides your details; for Friends users, it hides your Friends. I wanted to have a very simple and clear option: you’re either here to play, or you’re not. But it’s okay if you’re not. Select Private. I hope that does the trick.

Now about your comments: as I’ve said, I’m very impressed with the depth of thinking on this issue, and the passion with which many of you presented your cases. It is very hard to change the direction of the ship this quickly, but it just so happened that your voices coalesced – not in quantity (this isn’t a vote), but in calm intelligence. And in the end I agreed that it was the right thing to do. If this blog serves no other purpose for the remainder of its existence, it was the right forum for this dialog and it worked for y’all and for me. Amazing. (Trust me: not everything will work out this way.) Anyway, check it all out this weekend. Save some Faves. Tell people about it. I'd like to see if Faves cannot be more impactful than Friends. It’s a work in progress. I know I can count on y’all to send me your mind. Cheers.

Monday, September 10, 2007

This Weekend's Release

Sometime around this weekend On Monday Sept 17 we're releasing these changes in Friends and the Community. We're not "promoting" it yet, but do want to see how you like it, how it works for you, and so on. We'll announce it widely once y'all have banged on it for a bit. The key elements have been described in detail in prior posts, but a brief reminder would be:

1) "Favorites" (aka "Save to Faves"). Find reviewers or raters you like, and save them. Their recent activity (ratings and reviews only - nothing else) will show up prominently on the Community Home page. Even if you don't use Friends, this is a simple, less invasive way to personalize your Netflix site experience.

2) Rank. Someone at Netflix is the #1 most influential reviewer. We'll see who that is soon enough. But all of us have some ranking. Easy to ignore. Interesting to ponder. Based on a complicated set of factors, including number of highly helpful reviews (movies with few reviews provide most value), number of fans (people who have added you as a "Favorite"), and movies added to queues from your personal pages.

3) Subnav changes. Alas, the blog and other important items have been moved to the bottom of the page; Friends-related items are on the Friends & Faves page. Preferences is gone (yes, gone). Although you can still type in the URL and get to the page. We're phasing it out entirely, starting now.

4) Review Flags. The thresholds have been tuned, and very quickly you should see bad reviews going away and objectionable content managed. It's a community effect, so your vote alone doesn't change things -- but if disparate folks feel the same way, the automation should handle it properly.

5) Friends' Friends. Seeing who is connected to the people you are looking at is a core function of online communities, and will be fun and helpful for movie discovery. Only your real Friends are visible with a real name, and movie info like queue and rental history - this is unchanged. But now you can see their friends, or the friends of reviewers. This is new. They will only be identified by their anonymous nickname and avatar, but you'll see 'em.

RELATED TO THIS: we will be sending out an email to ALL Friends users tonight which will notify everyone of this change and give y'all time to tweak your nickname/avatar if you'd like. Because of your feedback on this blog, we're also making sure that you can select PRIVATE on your Profile page, and this will make you completely invisible outside of the Friends connections. This gives you an added level of comfort, I suppose (although being anonymous is pretty good comfort). Please read the terms of use if you have question. This is going to be a very safe network, but you convinced me that opting out is really important.

We're not done with Community just yet. Lots of improvement and new features still in the works. But i think with this release the shape of things is starting to take form.

Rubin in Chicago

I will be speaking at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry on Oct 19, and i'd like to invite any Chi-folks out there to come by and say hello. The talk will be about my book "Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution" -- which admittedly has little to do with Netflix Community, but hey, it does have to do with filmmaking, technology and business, and anyway, i'll be there answering questions, and it's a fine time to introduce yourself. October 19.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Blog Link

IN NEXT WEEKEND'S NEW FEATURES: One of the side-effects of us making the Community area easier for newbies is that we are removing almost all of the sub-navigation items under the Community tab. (Newbies often click on all of them-- RSS Feeds, Movie Privacy, Community Blog... and get totally confused about what is up here). Consequently, the links are about to get placed more appropriately: Friends-related items (like privacy or invite) can be found from the Friends & Faves page; The RSS and Blog links are among the links at the bottom of every page on the site. No doubt this will decrease the ability of Netflix folks to discover this blog, but it's the right thing to do.

This is one of those compromises you make that bum out some of us, but help out many. Hopefully you can still find your way here...

UPDATE 9/10:
(From the comments) I hear your concerns about moving the link, i really do. And believe me, no one wants to leave it in the subnav more than me. But (a) it's not like its gone or invisible, it's just not in the subnav. Truth is, being at the bottom links puts it on every page of the site, and not just here in community, which could be interpreted as a good thing (although i understand many people don't notice those). (b) it's not that we want to make it harder to find, its just that people who visit the community tab for the first time are getting confused about what this part of the site is about -- and the blog (as well as RSS, etc.) is confusing. Some don't know what a blog is, or they think that community MEANS contributing to a blog... anyway, our testing has shown me that where it is now is sending a confusing message, and by moving the subnavs, i'm hoping to get more people interested in community (the goal is more community interaction, not a larger audience for the blog). We'll find the right spot for the blog link in time, and it might even go back where it was. But we have learning to do first. Moving it (like so much of what you guys have tolerated over the past few months) is just a step. I'm glad to hear that many of y'all think it's a bad move. Duly noted.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Online Community

Yesterday I received this question:
I find it interesting that the sidebar of this blog states "We are not a social network and are not trying to be." Netflix now has public profiles, member reviews, member lists, friends lists, etc. How is Netflix NOT a social networking site? Why doesn't Netflix embrace this concept?

I make a distinction - subtle though it may be - between a social network and an online community. In my mind, a social network has as at least one of its objectives as connecting people together... a sort of "meet up." I look at Facebook or MySpace as excellent social networks. Linkedin is kind of a social network, but they seem to self-describe as a business network. It's all about biz, but it's still about hooking up. Netflix is not like these. On the spectrum, i think we're more toward the Wikipedia end -- of lots of value because lots of people contribute and share. I see us as an online community - a group of like-minded folks, bonded by a common interest in movies - using our numbers to help each other. We don't need to meet or know each other, but we can still utilize each other to discover great movies from a very very large collection. That process does involve discerning things about each other, to help give context to suggestions/recommendations. But the purpose isn't for you and me to meet. Anyway, I wanted y'all to know that i wasn't interested in turning this into a dating site. Sometimes people see the word "community" and they get the wrong idea.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Flagging Reviews

At the same time as we release Favorites, we release the first major improvements to the reviews flagging since it was introduced. This should fix many if not most of the issues you've had with policing content. Most noteworthy, i suppose, is the addition of the "Not A Review" flag -- your suggestion -- to deep six those spammy, customer servicey, non-reviewery elements. Remember, if you abuse the flagging to try gaming the reviews system, we know who you are. And this would be bad.

A few other notes. If the threshold is reached for the Objectionable Content flag on a certain movie review, it is only deleted from public view -- from the movie display page and the community home page and those types of presentations; it will still remain on your Reviews & Lists page. (Presumably, if you really want to read someones nasty, stupid objectionable reviews, you still can -- but they're not foisted on the rest of us).

If a reviewer is flagged as having objectionable nicknames or avatars, their name and image is automatically reset. If this happens to you, and you are CERTAIN there is nothing objectionable going on, go ahead and put the same photo and nickname back. But if it gets flagged AGAIN, you could lose your account and have to deal with customer service to deal with the situation. Let's not let it get to this, okay?

Spoiler Alerts. We're still improving this, but when a review gets tagged as a spoiler, a warning will appear at the start of the review. This is still getting fixed so it won't be working as soon as the rest of these go into effect. Reviewers will also have the opportunity to tag their own reviews as having spoilers, which amounts to the same thing. I'll let you know when this is all working. (Of course, it may be obvious too).

And as you may have assumed, getting your reviews flagged in various ways really can reduce your influence score, and thus your rank as a reviewer, if that matters to you. LOOK FOR THESE FEATURES MID-MONTH. I'll also post it here when these are live.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Future of Friends

When Favorites push out in a few weeks a couple interesting things will happen to Friends - and i wanted to explore them with you. First is this Friends & Faves page. It's not just that I added the Faves part - it has an inward facing (what you see) and outward facing (what other people see) state. Right now, there is only an inward facing part of Friends -- that is -- only you can see your friends. But shortly, there will be an outward facing version, and it will have a more anonymized version of the Friends page. It won't have sliders, and you won't be able to see rental history or queue info or notes... but you will be able to see that I have 5 friends. You'll be able to see them the same way you see reviewers: similarity %, nickname, avatar, 5-star ratings. And their friends. And while you cannot send these people notes or bug em, you can save them as your favorites, if you wanted. Just like a reviewer. This way, you can surf around from reviewer, to reviewer, to their Friends, to their Faves, and so on, checking out what people are enjoying, and so on.

(Draft of outward Friends and Faves page; no % on people means they haven't rated enough. Ignore the typo in the header...)

Now if you add someone to your Favorites list, they see you too, but in a different pile -- of FANS. You can always see your fans, check 'em out if you want (or ignore them; you could have hundreds if you're a great reviewer or make cool Top 10 Lists). On the inward facing version, these categories are separate -- but to the outside world, Friends, Faves and Fans are what you see. The similarity % are the similarity of these people to YOU, not to the person to whom they are connected. (I believe this is harder to write than to demonstrate, but i hope you can sort of visualize this).

The outward facing Friends & Faves page makes no distinction between Friends, Favorites (and fans). Just one big pile of people through which you can explore.

This is a very different proposition than the old Friends - where you have these very finite 1:1 connections. Favorites changes this, and seeing your Friends' friends changes this. Because of the anonymous profiles no one is really exposed, so it's a safe place to play and explore and look for movies.

And finally, these are just steps along a path of functionality. But this mid-September update will do some radical new things to the entire system. I count on you to tell me what you think - pro and con: let's hear it.